Daily Archives: March 31, 2015

Dumbest Bill of the Year: We may have a winner!

This one’s being referred to the House Committee on Goofy Shit.

Tomorrow may be April Fools Day, but one of our lovable, huggable freshman lawmakers chose today to introduce the early front-runner for Dumbest Bill of the Year.

The sponsor is Republican Job Tate of Mendon, he who sent gasps through the House chamber last week when he proposed cutting lawmakers’ already minuscule pay. His new brainchild is H.495. It’s very simple, about a half page long. It’s the very first bill on which he is the one and only sponsor — his first big idea. And what would it do?

It would shift the Legislature from a Tuesday-Friday schedule for four months, to a Saturday-Sunday schedule for eight months.

Let that sink in for a moment. The Legislature meets on weekends exclusively for eight months every year.

The intent, I guess, is to make serving in the Legislature more accessible to those with full-time jobs. And on behalf of working men and women across Vermont, let me just say “Bwahahahahaha.”

Are you kidding me? Do you think anyone with a full-time job would want to devote their weekends for eight solid months to working under the golden dome? As one observer noted, “The divorce rate would skyrocket.”

Not to mention that everyone who has dealings with the Legislature, including numerous state employees, would have their choice of working seven days a week when the Leg is in session, working five-day weeks including Saturday and Sunday and taking two weekdays off, or working weekdays and being constantly on call for legislature-related obligations every weekend.

Lobbyists, who constantly prowl the corridors of power, would be royally screwed. But ehhhh, they’re lobbyists. (How does that joke go, “What do you call a hundred lobbyists buried up to their necks in sand?”)

Okay, of course this bill is going nowhere. But why introduce it in the first place? How did Mr. Tate seize upon this as his inaugural voyage into the waters of lawmaking?

Job Tate is not a fool. He was a Navy Seabee and remains in the reserves. According to his legislative bio, he was…

…a heavy equipment operator, explosives expert, squad leader, and combat warfare specialist who has worked with teams to build vital infrastructure in some of the world’s most challenging conditions.

That takes some brain power and the ability to correctly deploy it. But stuff like H.495, he should know, is a good way to get yourself typed as the Clown Prince of the House.

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Look out, here comes the Bee Pollen Brigade

Here’s the topline for today’s developments re: funding for improvements to Vermont’s health care system:

$20 million.

That’s the target figure for new revenue agreed upon by key House leaders. A big comedown from the House Health Care Committee’s $52 million, but enough to make some progress in closing the Medicaid gap*, enhancing access for the working poor, and trying to attract more primary care providers.

*The gap closure is likely to favor primary care doctors, since they’re the front line of health care and also the most financially precarious.

Exactly how the House will get to $20 million is unclear. House Ways and Means is aiming to pass a bill this week*, but it would then face an uncertain fate in the Appropriations Committee. And the House floor. And the Senate.

*Committee vote today postponed due to the absences of two Democratic members.

But $20 million seems etched in stone, at least in the House. So this morning, Ways and Means examined five different tax packages that would raise roughly $20 million per year. The options include: some sort of tax on sugar-sweetened AND diet beverages, removing the sales tax exemptions on candy, sweetened beverages, imposing the rooms and meals tax on vending machiens, increasing taxes on cigarettes and/or tobacco products, and my fave: imposing the sales tax on dietary supplements.

Gasp! Yes, lawmakers might force us to pay sales tax on cranberry extract pills, antioxidants, probiotics, pro-oxidants (is that a thing?), and all those other sundry preparations clogging the shelves of your local food co-op.

I am now counting down to the arrival of the Bee Pollen Brigade with cries of outrage. This could be the next mass invasion of the Statehouse.

But it’s among the least unpalatable options before Ways and Means. As of this writing, there’s no sense of a committee consensus or even a majority behind any of the five tax packages. (Conservative Democrat Jim Condon tried a Hail Mary pass this morning; he floated the idea of selling bonds to pay for some health care reforms. The idea was quickly shot down by the Treasurer’s office, which pointed out that it’s considered improvident to bond for short-term spending. Or, to put it in Treasurer’s terms, “You should make sure the useful life of the asset is at least as long as the life of the bond.”)

Ways and Means is working from five proposed tax packages; all five are outlined, with revenue estimates, on the committee’s website.

So, the details of the revenue package remain unclear, but the bottom line is not.

$20 million for health care.